A winter visit to Penrhyn Castle.
As most of us this time of the year, we all love visiting, we all agree to go or we are dragged along to the various fantastic pre-Christmas festivities and fairs up and down the country, myself included.
I fall into the category of ‘love’, I must admit now that both children are officially adults the magic of Christmas does not shine as bright as it used to, maybe I drag myself out to these events to charge the batteries.
In any case, today’s little escapade was a little visit to see Penrhyn Castle’s ‘Victorian Christmas’. Penrhyn Castle does have a place in my heart, not because it is a fantastic beast of a mock castle, but I do love it, awesome grounds, stunning views but because it is a very important piece of history for us in North Wales and a fine example of exploitation of workers and their rights over the years.
Still an impressive building and a fine example of how you can spend an awful amount of money on property and indulgence, a fine example of ‘upstairs and downstairs’, I urge every single one of you to visit it at some point.
They are normally closed over the winter months but the last few years they have been opening the property, be it only a limited section, to portray how Christmas used to be in the Victorian times. Wreath making in the kitchens, various Christmas trees and the drawing room was full of traditional toys from a train set to board games, and guides were on call to explain the weird and wonderful traditions of the time. There was even a magician there playing sleight of hand, maybe their opulence extended to entertainers for the big day, who knows.
Another of Penrhyn Castle’s best kept secrets is its wonderful grounds, again visited many a time over the warmer months but strangely enough never during winter, a good reason for this maybe because its closed….
The display of our late autumn colours, or as those over the other side of the world would say ‘the fall’, was still generating a fantastic display of reds, oranges, yellow, russet, and many more superb shades of autumnal colours with many of the leaves still holding strong to the trees, like a mother refusing to abandon her young.
It was a lovely warm day, walking around the various paths and dreaming that we were exploring and enjoying our gardens back in the day, the vision of some of these gentry was awe inspiring despite their characters and background and no one can deny their influence on the way we perceive gardens and the countryside as we know it today.
The garden as it appears today was conceived by George Hay Dawkings Pennant in 1822- 1838, developed and implemented to match the grandeur of his ‘Penrhyn Castle’.
Walter Speed was the head gardener between 1835 – 1921 and he served three consecutive Lord Penrhyn’s over the period of 58 years. I’d love to see a football manager with that dedication and length of service. He had a staff of 30 and the estate was very much self sufficient in seasonal fruit and vegetables. They had separate greenhouses for grapes, pineapples, nectarines, figs, peaches and mushrooms, the list is endless.
It is said that his lordship insisted on fresh tomatoes for 12 months of the year, this was done with a complex set up including various greenhouses and heated cold frames, not an easy task, I’m sure, especially 2 centuries ago.
For me one of the highlights of the grounds is the magnificent walled garden which strangely enough is quite a walk from the house, even today it is pretty impressive with its terraces, steps and water features. Fuchsias now fill the box hedges and flowers where the vegetables used to be, crunchy gravel paths to die for. There is a magnificent long archway at the bottom with fuchsias trained over it, must be lovely in summer, oh , what opulence.
Below the terrace is the bog garden, with dozens upon dozens of the fantastic but rather strange Gunnera Manticata growing, flanked with Japanese maples, eucalyptus, palms, pampas grass and bamboo. Now all cut down for the winter ready to spring back into action during the warmer months.
The staff had put together a huge Christmas wreath from their very own stock of vegetation and had set it up ender the gazebo for us mere mortals to take a selfie, to be fair it was a very nice touch.
We ambled back up to the house thinking to ourselves ‘I wander what the cook will have for us tonight’ maybe some exotic fancy roasted bird, some foir groix or however you spell it, what a life it must have been. The reality for us it was a lovely cup of coffee in the cafe and some magnificent cake, hat off to cook, be it today or 150 years ago.
If you are reading this and, in the area, then please visit this gem of a place, be it Christmas, Summer, Autumn or Winter.
Well time to get back home and back to reality.